WATCH: GEM tackles pill fatigue with daily bites for the ‘modern millennial woman’

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags FoodBytes

Many millennials worry about nutritional gaps in their diet, but would prefer to get what they need from food rather than popping pills, says GEM, a Los Angeles-based online subscription business delivering whole food based daily ‘bites’ containing 15 key nutrients direct to consumers’ doors.

One of 15 startups pitching at Rabobank’s recent Foodbytes! event in San Francisco, GEM​ is on a mission to reinvent the supplement aisle, said co-founder and CEO Sara Cullen, who said some consumers are also wary of colors, flavors, binders, fillers, added sugar, and allergens in dietary supplements.

Pill fatigue is also common, she told FoodNavigator-USA: “Who looks forward to swallowing a handful of vitamins a day? It’s not a delightful experience and it’s not effective either. Each GEM bite is made of 13 real food ingredients that are not only more delicious and delightful but better absorbed in your body."

She added: “We’re reimagining daily health solutions, how they are made, the way they are designed, what they look like, and we’re starting with the multivitamin. We ship 30-day packs directly to your door for $39 a month.”

Each 35-calorie GEM bite contains 15 key nutrients from whole food sources, from ashwagandha to chia, astaxanthin, chlorella, spirulina, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas and quinoa, plus ingredients such as dates and coconut to add texture and flavor, said Cullen, who is targeting the “working modern millennial woman,” ​who is “concerned about stress, energy, beauty, mood, and hormone balance.”

‘GEM was inspired by my personal health journey’

Pitching to judges on the Foodbytes! stage, Cullen said: “Isn’t it strange we question the origins of our food and our face cream, yet rarely do we ask where do our vitamins come from, and how are they made? Our food system is broken, drained of its diversity, depleted of its nutrient potential, and failing to keep us healthy…

“GEM was inspired by my personal health journey.  Despite eating well, I didn’t feel well. After countless blood tests and allergy tests I found I wasn’t getting the right nourishment.

“So at my doctor’s request I turned to the $50bn unregulated supplement industry ​[a claim that the supplement industry is constantly challenging given that it is regulated by the FDA, and must meet strict safety and efficacy standards] to fill the gaps in my diet.

“But what I found was a highly processed world with a lot of dirty secrets… Most vitamins are created in chemical factories ​[another claim supplement brands take issue with, as all foods are made of ‘chemicals’] and derived from really questionable sources. For instance, did you know that 90% of vitamin D on the shelves today comes from sheep’s wool?  Ours comes from mushrooms…” ​[Studies show that vitamin D3, found in sheep’s wool, and vitamin D2, found in mushrooms, are both equally effective​ at raising blood levels of vitamin D].

“Our world deserves a better solution so we created GEM. We believe food is medicine and we want to fill the gaps in your diet in smarter ways.”

“GEM launched six months ago, and is built with highly scalable unit economics. We have a talented team with industry experience that spans functional medicine, food science, finance, ops, and consumer marketing.”

Sara Cullen, cofounder and CEO, GEM

Quizzed by Blueberry Ventures founder Arif Fazal about GEM’s performance to date, Cullen said: “We’ve been growing like crazy. Our cost per acquisition - our CPA - is 40 dollars blended​ [on average], our paid ​[CPA] is $48, and our LTV ​[lifetime value per customer] is more than $150 in terms of gross profit.

“On the paid side, we’re doing Facebook and Instagram advertising, so that’s where the $48 CPA comes in, and on the organic side we have a micro-influencer network, word of mouth and a lot of referrals, so really we have a super capital efficient business. We break even less than three months into a subscriber’s journey, and we’re seeing more than 50% of people are staying on through month three.

“Since launch, we’ve grown on average 10% week over week with thousands of orders a month and we’re on track towards a million ARR ​[annual run rate]. Our customers are obsessed and fanatical about the first ever real food vitamin, which is why more than 60% of our growth to date has been driven organically, supported by word of mouth.”

New consumer targets, form factors 

Asked what was next for GEM, she said: “We will build an ecosystem of daily health solutions that touch on different life stages, from kids to the modern millennial woman to pre-natal to menopause.

“We also see GEM expanding into different form factors and different usage occasions.”

GEM ingredients​: Organic Date Paste, Organic Coconut, Organic Pumpkin Seeds, Organic Black Chia Seeds, Organic Chlorella (Cracked Cell) Powder, Spirulina Powder, Magnesium (from seawater), Organic B Vitamins from Quinoa Sprouts, Organic Ashwagandha Root and Leaf Extract, Himalayan Salt, Vitamin K2 (from chickpeas), Vitamin D2 (from Agaricus bisporus mushrooms), Astaxanthin. 

Nutrition Facts​: Serving size: 1 bite (10g), Amount per serving: Calories 35, Total Fat 2g (3% DV), Sat. Fat 0.85g (4% DV), Trans Fat 0g, Cholest. 0mg (0% DV), Sodium 86mg (0% DV), Total Carb. 5g (2% DV), Fiber 1g (4% DV), Total Sugars 3g, Protein 1g (2% DV), Vit. A (0.2% DV),  V. C (0.1% DV), Calcium (0.9% DV), Iron (3.8% DV), Vit. D (180.3% DV), Vit. K (65% DV), Folate (25% DV), Vit. B12 (25% DV), Biotin (25% DV), Pant. Acid (25% DV), Phosph. (0.1% DV), Magnes. (29.3% DV), Zinc (0.1% DV),  Copper (0.1% DV), Manga. (0.5% DV).


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